The Anointed Servant

The theme of fulfillment is prominent in Matthew’s gospel. In Jesus of Nazareth, the promises of God found their fulfillment and correct applications. He was the Son of God sent to redeem Israel and the nations. Peter, for example, confirmed that he was the “Messiah,” but he failed to perceive that he would undertake that role as the suffering “Servant of Yahweh” who came to “bear the sins of many.”

In its opening passage, Matthew calls him the “son of David, the son of Abraham.” He was the royal descendant of David destined to rule the nations and the heir of Abraham who would complete the Covenant.

Waterfalls WV - Photo by Sean Robertson on Unsplash
[Photo by Sean Robertson on Unsplash]

Abraham was wealthy. David was a victorious warrior-king. So, how could a humble and poor man from an insignificant village accomplish all that God promised? 
What kind of Messiah would that man be?

An angel informed Joseph that Mary was pregnant and commanded him to name the child Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.” His name means “Yahweh saves,” just what God was about to do for His people.

The declaration that he would “save his people from their sin” echoes the description of the “Servant of Yahweh” found in the Book of Isaiah:

  • Behold, MY SERVANT shall deal wisely, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high… And Yahweh has LAID ON HIM THE INIQUITY OF US ALL… Who among them considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living FOR THE TRANSGRESSION OF MY PEOPLE TO WHOM THE STROKE WAS DUE?... He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by the knowledge of himself SHALL MY RIGHTEOUS SERVANT JUSTIFY MANY; AND HE SHALL BEAR THEIR INIQUITIES Because he poured out his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors: YET HE BARE THE SIN OF MANY, and made intercession for the transgressors.

When he was baptized, the Spirit descended on him “like a dove,” and the “voice from heaven” called him “my Son.” That language alluded to two messianic passages in the Hebrew Bible. Thus, God confirmed his status as the Messiah of Israel, but He also defined HOW he would fulfill that role:

  • (Psalm 2:7) - “I will surely tell of the decree of Yahweh: he said to me: YOU ARE MY SON, today, I have begotten you.”
  • (Isaiah 42:1, 6-7) - “Behold, MY SERVANT whom I uphold; my chosen one IN WHOM MY SOUL DELIGHTS. I HAVE PUT MY SPIRIT UPON HIM; he will bring forth justice to the nations… I, Yahweh, have called you in righteousness and will hold your hand, and will keep you, and give you for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles

THE SERVANT


Jesus is the “Son” and Messiah anointed by the Spirit who reigns over the nations. However, he does so as the “Servant of Yahweh.” Later in Matthew, the same passage is cited again to describe his ministry, only more fully:

  • (Matthew 12:18-22) - “And perceiving it, Jesus withdrew from thence: and many followed him; and he healed them all and charged them that they should not make him known: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, sayingBehold, MY SERVANT WHOM I HAVE CHOSEN; MY BELOVED IN WHOM MY SOUL IS WELL PLEASED. I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT UPON HIM, AND HE SHALL DECLARE JUDGMENT TO THE NATIONS. He shall not strive, nor cry aloud; Neither shall anyone hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, And smoking flax shall he not quench, till he sends forth judgment unto victory. AND IN HIS NAME SHALL THE NATIONS HOPE.

At his transfiguration, the same voice spoke once more, again echoing Isaiah - While Peter was yet speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold, a voice out of the cloud, saying: THIS IS MY BELOVED SON, IN WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED; HEAR HIM - (Matthew 17:1-5).

Not coincidentally, the transfiguration was preceded by three incidents that prepared the disciples for this incident. First, Jesus asked them what others were saying about “who the Son of man is?” They responded, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, or one of the prophets.” Then he asked who they believed he was. Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” - (Matthew 16:13-20).

Second, he began to warn them about his suffering and death at the hands of the “elders and chief priests and scribes.” Peter found the idea intolerable and began to rebuke him (Matthew 16:21-23).

Third, Jesus explained that if anyone desired to follow him, he must deny himself, takup his cross, and follow his cruciform path. “Whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it.”

He then told the disciples that some of them would “see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” before they died. In the narrative, these words are followed by the transfiguration - (Matthew 16:24-28).

After his transfiguration, the disciples asked him why the Scribes claimed that “Elijah must come first.” He responded that “Elijah” did indeed come, alluding to John the Baptist. To him, the Scribes and priestly leaders “did whatsoever they would. Even so, shall the Son of man also suffer” - (Matthew 17:9-13).

SUFFERING BEFORE EXALTATION


Two themes become prominent. First, his coming suffering. Second, he summoned his disciples to emulate him by engaging in self-sacrificial service for others and for the Gospel.

Later, two disciples requested high positions “when you come into your kingdom.” This displeased the others. However, Jesus used the opportunity to explain how “greatness” would be measured in his Kingdom:

  • (Matthew 20:25-28) – “But Jesus called them unto him, and said: You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you: but whosoever would become great among you shall be your servant, and whosoever would be first among you shall be your slave, EVEN AS THE SON OF MAN CAME NOT TO BE SERVED, BUT TO SERVE, AND TO GIVE HIS LIFE A RANSOM FOR MANY.

The Messiah pointed to his own imminent sufferings as the ultimate example of what it meant for his disciple “not to be served, but to serve.” In doing so, he echoed the description of the “Servant of Yahweh” - “Because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors. Yet HE BORE THE SIN OF MANY AND MADE INTERCESSION FOR THE TRANSGRESSORS.

His death was the “ransom price” for the redemption of others. Paul employed this same image when demonstrating how believers attain the “same mind, which was in Christ Jesus.”

Unlike Adam, Jesus did not attempt to seize the “likeness with God.” Instead, he “poured himself out and took the form of a servant… becoming obedient unto death, even, the death of the cross” – (Philippians 2:6-8).

Bridge over stream - Photo by armin djuhic on Unsplash
[Photo by armin djuhic on Unsplash]

Shortly before his death, Jesus broke bread and told the disciples to eat it, “
for this is my body,” then he passed the cup, telling them to drink its contents, “for THIS IS MY BLOOD OF THE COVENANT.” Once more, he was using language from Isaiah for the “Servant of Yahweh”:

  • I, Yahweh, have called you in righteousness and will hold your hand, and will keep you and GIVE YOU FOR A COVENANT OF THE PEOPLE, for a light of the Gentiles” – (Isaiah 42:6, Matthew 26:26-28).

Before his ascension, Jesus received “All authority in heaven and on earth.” He is the messianic king who reigns over the nations and dispatches his disciples to proclaim the Good News to “all the nations.” However, his enthronement came only after his death and resurrection. It is the suffering “Servant of Yahweh” who now sits on the Throne.

Thus, Jesus is the Servant of Yahweh who “gave his life as a ransom for many.” Neither his identity, his mission nor his reign can be understood apart from his sacrificial act. Moreover, his life becomes the model and imperative for how his disciples are to live in this world.



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